Washington’s Death Squads
By Bill Van Auken
June 09, 2015 "Information
Clearing House" - "WSWS"
- In a lengthy article published Sunday, the New York
Times provided a glimpse into the criminal and grisly methods employed by
Seal Team 6, a secret unit within the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations
The unit was made famous by the phony
accounts of its assassination of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, cover stories that
were blown last month by veteran journalist
Hersh, who exposed the operation as the cold-blooded murder of an unarmed
and decrepit individual who had been fingered by Pakistani intelligence.
What the Times account makes clear—whatever the
newspaper’s intentions and its undoubted vetting of its material with the
Pentagon and the White House—is that in the pursuit of its global interests, the
United States government has become ever more dependent upon the murderous
operations of secret death squads.
The newspaper quotes a Pentagon spokesman as saying that the
number of missions carried out by Seal Team 6 and other special operations units
has risen to the “tens of thousands” since 2001. The victims killed by Seal Team
6, whose very existence the US military refuses to acknowledge, number in the
thousands, the vast majority of them unidentified individuals with no link to
any plot or threat against the US itself.
The report says the secretive unit has grown to 1,800
personnel and boasts a “ballooning” budget and an ever-expanding remit. It
details Seal Team 6’s exploits in Afghanistan between 2006 and 2008, when it
carried out continuous night raids, killing, on average, 15 individuals each
night and frequently as many as 25, while in most cases finding no one
identified as a target.
Neither those hunted nor the many more who were killed posed
any threat to the American people. They were targeted because they were
identified as potential impediments to US policy, specifically to Washington’s
attempt to prop up the corrupt and unpopular regime under Hamid Karzai that the
US installed in Kabul.
The Times provides a sanitized account of one of
these raids, carried out on December 27, 2009, as part of the Obama
administration’s Afghan “surge,” in which the American military death squad
murdered eight schoolboys—ages 11 to 17—along with a 12-year-old shepherd boy
and an Afghan farmer.
At the time, a local school principal recounted the massacre:
“First, the foreign troops entered the guest room and shot two of them. Then
they entered another room and handcuffed the seven students. Then they killed
them. Abdul Khaliq [the farmer] heard shooting and came outside. When they saw
him, they shot him as well.”
Describing this period, a Seal Team 6 former officer, speaking
on condition of anonymity, stated, “These killing fests had become routine.”
The Times reports that in Afghanistan, the Team 6
operatives “engaged in combat so intimate that they have emerged soaked in blood
that was not their own.” It adds, “At times, Seals cut off fingers or patches of
scalp from dead militants for DNA analysis.”
What is described here are not the actions of rogue soldiers
or a band of lawless mercenaries, but rather a unit that is touted as the most
elite within the US armed forces. Its methods and its crimes are the methods and
crimes of the US government, the Obama administration and America’s capitalist
The unit is given what amounts to blanket immunity for its
crimes, with investigations of its activities almost invariably going no further
than JSOC, itself a secretive command dedicated to “counter-insurgency” methods
that routinely translate into war crimes.
Civilian officials at the Pentagon give these operations a
wide berth, and, as Harold Koh, the State Department official who drafted
pseudo-legal rationales for the Obama administration’s drone assassination
program, told the Times, “This is an area where Congress notoriously
doesn’t want to know too much.”
The Obama administration’s reliance upon these operations has
become so pervasive that former US senator from Nebraska Robert Kerrey told the
Times, “They have become sort of a 1-800 number anytime somebody wants
knows whereof he speaks, having participated as a Navy Seal in war crimes in
Vietnam as part of the infamous Operation Phoenix program of torture, massacres
and mass assassinations that resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of men,
women and children—the program on which much of today’s operations is modeled.
To the extent that the Times piece expresses any
reservations concerning the operations of Team 6 and similar units, it is in
regard to their efficacy. The newspaper complains that the wall of secrecy that
surrounds this death squad operation makes it difficult “to fully assess its
record and the consequences of its actions.”
Left unexplored is the far more significant question of what
the ever-growing reliance on death squads, “kill lists” and assassinations says
about the nature of the American government itself. The use of such methods is
not new, and Vietnam was by no means exceptional.
In El Salvador, Washington trained and equipped death squads
that carried out horrific violence against that country’s civilian population,
accounting for a large share of the 75,000 people killed in the attempt to crush
resistance to the US-backed dictatorship. This bloodbath is now touted within
the Pentagon as a counterinsurgency success story.
But now these methods have become institutionalized as never
before. They are the preferred method of the White House and Washington’s
massive military and intelligence apparatus for the elimination of perceived
enemies anywhere on the planet.
War crimes abroad go hand-in-hand with a frontal assault on
democratic rights within the United States itself. Unprecedented levels of
social inequality and a ruling capitalist oligarchy that is determined to
reverse its economic decline at the expense of the working class are wholly
incompatible with democratic forms of rule.
This already finds expression in the militarization of the
police in the US and the routine use of violence and deadly force against the
most oppressed layers of the population. How long will it be before units like
Seal Team 6 are given “kill lists” of enemies of the state to be hunted down not
in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq or Yemen, but rather at workplaces and homes
within the United States itself?
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